Friday, August 29, 2014

Not All About Looks...

This week, we stopped in the repair shop and had an interesting discussion with our technician, Rachel Baker, about pinned mechanisms.  Although the pins on a flute with a pinned mechanism are very small, they do "poke out" a bit, and some people simply do not like the look of this.  So, she has had customers ask if the pins could be made to be flush with the mechanism.  Whereas this look may be more aesthetically pleasing to some, making the pin flush with the mechanism would actually create many problems...

The pins in a pinned mechanism extend just slightly above the mechanism so that they can be removed (for repair and maintenance).  For instance, during a C.O.A., the repair technician must take apart the mechanism as part of the process, so s/he would need to easily remove the pins (follow this link to read our previous post on the C.O.A. process).   If the pins are flush with the mechanism, the repair technician would not be able to remove them.

Flute finisher Matt Keller also spoke with us about pins from the perspective of the finisher.  He explained that because pins are pushed into place, pushing the pin all the way through could damage the top of the key.  Pins are also tapered so that they stay in place.  The taper begins at the area of the pin that extends from the key.  This placement helps create stability.  If the pin were to be pushed down to become flush, the area around the top of the pin could loosen.

So, as you can see, the look of having the pin flush against the key might be appealing to some -- but it's position helps the mechanism function properly and allows your repair technician to safely remove the pin for repair and maintenance.

Red circle around the pin in position

Friday, August 22, 2014

How Well Do You Know Your Flute?

If you have been shopping for a new flute, you've probably come across many choices, options, and specs for different models.  What do they all mean -- and how do they compare with your own flute?  Even if you are not looking for something new but are curious about the features and manufacturing date of your flute, if you play a Powell you can find this information online!

The Powell website's online bible allows you to enter a Powell serial number and find the specs on that instrument.  For instance, we entered serial number 14543 and found the following:

It may be a bit hard to read, but the photo above is a computer screen shot with the search results, which are:

Serial Number: 14543
Completion Date:  9/16/2011
Specs:  Powell Handmade Custom 14K Aurumite flute with sterling silver mechanism, .016" tubing, soldered tone holes, A442, Modern Powell Scale, B footjoint with gizmo, offset G, French cups, split-E and Powell pinless mechanism.
Model:  Handmade Custom Flute

So, this tells us quite a bit about the flute -- the date of completion, model, body and mechanism materials, body thickness, type of tone holes, pitch, scale, and options.  For someone looking to purchase a new Powell, it may be difficult to remember all the specs if you are trying multiple flutes, so you could print these results to help in the decision making process.  If you are searching for your own flutes, you may find information you did not know previously.  Perhaps you wondered if your flute had soldered tone holes, or a pinless mechanism, or the body tubing thickness -- and the search results can tell you this.  Wondering when exactly your flute was made?  As you can see, a quick database search will tell you the exact month, day and year!

All Powell instruments are listed in the database, so even if you have a serial number with only 2 digits, you should be able to find it.  If you have a Handmade Conservatory flute, you may need to enter "CHM-(serial number)" or "HC-(serial number)."  For instance, "CHM-123" or "HC-123."  Whether it is a flute or piccolo, it should be searchable.  Since the records were transferred from the physical "Powell Bible" to the online database, it is possible that you may find an error.  In that case, make sure to contact our Marketing Director, Christina Guiliano-Cobas at to let her know.

After you find the specs, you may be wondering what they mean -- like "soldered tone holes."  We have plenty of information on our website, and in our Flute Builder blog as well.  If you are on the blog, type "soldered tone holes" in the search bar, and see what comes up!  You should see several posts.  Between our general site, Flute Builder blog, and a Google search, your questions should be answered!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Engraving Facts and FAQs

Here at Powell, we are fortunate to have Weiling Zhou on staff as both a finisher and engraver.  We've seen examples of his work many times on our Facebook page and in a previous two-part post on key engraving which you can read by clicking here for Part I and here for Part II.

The engravings are truly, as flute finisher Lindsey McChord shared, "like works of art.  They are amazing.  You can have whatever you want, and they are very ornate -- really just amazing."  As she mentioned, you can bring your own design for the engraving(s), or you could choose from Weiling's large notebook of patterns.  His specialties include birds, leaves, flowers, and shells, but the possibilities go far beyond this -- such as initials and more abstract shapes and designs.

In our previous posts, we noted that if you are thinking of having engraving done on your existing flute, a good time to have the engraving done is when you send the flute in for repair.  This is especially convenient for key engraving since the keys are removed as part of the repair process.  However, you can have key, lip plate, and crown engraving done at any time. Also, if you are specifically having lip plate or crown engraving done, you can send the headjoint and/or crown in separately without the whole flute.

In addition to key, lip plate, and crown engraving, there is also an option to have the flute's rings engraved.  The ring engraving option is really best to choose when you order a new flute so the engraving can be done as the flute is being built.  This is because the rings cannot be engraved on the barrel, so to have them engraved on a flute that has already been made would require the barrel to be removed from the body, and then the rings to be removed from the barrel, and -- well, you can see why it makes more sense to request it when you place an order for a new flute!

Often times, we get questions from customers about how the engraving feels and if it will change the sound.  Lindsey mentioned that engraved keys can make things easier if the player has hands that may get sweaty and slippery.  The engraved lip plate is what gets the most inquiries, and Lindsey recently had the lip plate on her flute engraved.  She said that the lip plate doesn't really feel much different when it is engraved -- there's no really noticeable difference, and it feels normal.  "The engraving is an etching into the surface, so you aren't taking away material or creating a lumpy surface."  Lindsey did mention that she had previously used a postage stamp on her lip plate to keep it from sliding, and the engraving can actually help keep the lip plate where it needs to be.  As for sound changes, well, there are none because Weiling will not engrave on the edge of the embouchure opposite your lips (the "front" or "blowing edge").

So, if you are thinking of having your flute engraved, rest assured that the engraving will not change the sound, and you have plenty of pattern options.  To see more examples of Weiling's engraving, click the titles below to see the photo albums on our Facebook page:

New Engraved Crowns
Engraving Examples
Engraving Examples - II
White Gold "Chicago" Flute
Engraved Keys on Aurumite 14k Custom

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Headjoint "A Bit Off?"

New cork assemblies
We recently had a customer who thought something might be a bit off with her headjoint.  She would use her swabstick to check the headjoint cork position, looking to see if the mark on the swabstick was in the middle of the embouchure hole, and it just didn't seem quite right.  So, our repair technician, Rachel, took a look.  The swabstick mark was actually alright, so she didn't need the headjoint cork moved or replaced.  However, Rachel left our customer with a tip.  If you think something might be "a bit off" with the cork, play octaves.  If the octaves are in tune, everything is alright.  After all, one of the functions of the cork is to balance intonation between octaves.  We have a previous post on headjoint cork maintenance that you can read by following this link.

The customer also wanted to have her headjoint checked for fit.  She felt that it might be too loose, and sure enough, it was!  Our technician was able to fit the headjoint by expanding the tenon, and everything was good to go.  Concerned about the fit of your headjoint?  If the headjoint is turning when you play or if you are having trouble getting the headjoint into the body, you definitely should have your repair technician take a look.  Click here to read more from our previous post on headjoint fit.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Tarnishing from Cloth?

Anti-tarnish shield (being applied here) can get worn away by some cloths and chemicals.
We stopped in to the repair shop this week, and our repair technician told us that she had a customer who called with a tarnishing problem.  She said the customer had used a treated polishing cloth and could not understand why her flute was tarnishing right after she polished it with the cloth.  We knew quite well that our repair technician frowns upon flutists using anything other than a plain, microfiber cloth on their flutes, so we thought this would be a good chance to find out more about the "perils" of the treated polishing cloth.

Our repair technician told us that the treated polishing cloths contain polish, and polish is abrasive.  So, if you are using a treated cloth, you will wear away the protective anti-tarnish shield that covers the flute.  Once the anti-tarnish shield is worn away, the flute is prone to tarnish faster.  So, even though the customer had just polished her flute, it was shiny -- but it was also vulnerable to tarnish faster, and that is exactly what happened!

Our repair technician tells us that tarnish is "a personal thing," and that some people have a body chemistry that makes their flutes tarnish faster, and some people have flutes that never tarnish.  However, we do know that anything that would wear away or dissolve the anti-tarnish shield is not good for your flute.  As mentioned above, polishes and cloths treated with polish are abrasive and will wear through the protective coating.  If you use alcohol on your lip plate to clean it, that is okay -- as long as you use it only on the lip plate.  Make sure never to wipe the rest of the flute with alcohol, because alcohol will dissolve the anti-tarnish shield.

If you are curious as to what the anti-tarnish shield is, we have a previous post on it, which you can read by following this link.  We realize that having a shiny flute is nice, but make sure that you are using only a plain cloth  to shine it -- and nothing that will eat through the flute's protective anti-tarnish coating.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Have Flute, Will Travel...

The NFA is just around the corner, and we know that flutists from around the globe will be flying in to Chicago.  That being said, we thought it would be a great opportunity to get our repair technician's thoughts on the best way to travel with a flute.  We all agreed that the preferred method is to hand carry your flute in a gig bag so that is on the plane with you.  Our Customer Service Manager gave us a tip from one of her customers, who always puts his flute (in its gig bag) in the overhead compartment across the aisle from his seat so that he can keep his eyes on it at all times.

However, we realize that it is not always possible to carry your flute on the plane.  We asked our technician about flutes in checked baggage, and she said it would be perfectly fine as long as the flute is well-fitted in the case.  To quote her exactly, "the case is designed to protect the flute, and as long as the flute is fitting properly, there should not be a problem."  How can you tell if it is fitting properly?  Well, you can put the flute in its case and give the closed case a shake.  If you feel or hear anything, the flute is not fitting properly.

Our technician tells us that she has seen flutes come in with cases that have "extra padding" inside the top lid to help protect the flute -- but this is definitely not what you want to do.  She has seen bubble wrap, towels, and all sorts of "padding," but this is a huge problem because the padding is pressing down on the key mechanism.  Her recommendation is to pad the case in the areas where the material would only come in contact with the flute body and never the mechanism.  So, where would that be?  It's on the "blocking" of the case, which you will see in the photos below.  If you visualize the case coming down to close, you will notice that the points of contact are not on any part of the mechanism -- only the body.

Yellow lines outline the right side of blocking.  Yellow arrows show points of contact.
Yellow line outlines left side of blocking.  Yellow arrive shows point of contact.

So, regardless of how the flute is transported (hand carried, checked), making sure that it fits properly in its case is critical.  If it does, the case will be able to "do its job" and protect the flute!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Key Noise?

Key noise is certainly a topic of interest when it comes to flute maintenance and repair.  If you've ever noticed some type of noise coming from your keys, you are not alone.  So, what is the cause of this?  Well, we asked our repair technician, Rachel Baker, and she told us it could be a number of things -- the keys hitting the tops of the tone holes, worn felts, or any number of parts of the mechanism that may be out of adjustment.  She said it really depends on the flute, and each one must be assessed individually to diagnose the key noise issue and repair the flute accordingly. 

If you do hear a noise coming from your keys, Rachel says you'll want to tell your technician exactly which notes you are playing when you hear the noise.  This is helpful because different parts of the mechanism are engaged for different notes.  Sections of the mechanism also function in very particular ways when you are changing from one note to another.  Letting your technician know which notes you are playing when the noise occurs can help him/her focus in on exactly what might be the root of the noise.

Also, one thing to keep in mind when it comes to key noise is that a certain amount of noise from the keys and mechanism are normal.  Rachel tells us that flutes are never "100% silent" when they are played, so some noise might be perfectly harmless.  However, if you do hear a noise, do not hesitate to contact your authorized repair technician.  As Rachel said, key noise may happen for a variety of reasons, and your technician will be able to determine whether the noise is something normal or if it is an indication of a problem that needs to be repaired.